With the team’s stadium lease 10 years from expiring and the NFL’s franchise shuffle renewed in recent years given the approved moves of three of the league’s 32 franchises, the Bengals are at least on the outer edges of the relocation radar screen. Bengals owner Mike Brown disputes that notion, however. Strongly.
“This is just a figment of somebody’s imagination,” Brown recently told the team’s official website. “We have no intention of moving. We had an opportunity to move when we came here to the stadium. We turned it down knowing full well that we were turning down literally hundreds of millions of dollars that we would not see here that we would have seen if we moved. I think that ought to be understood. It seems to be ignored.”
What can’t be ignored is the reality that, when the lease expires in a decade, the local politicians may not be willing to cut the kind of sweetheart deal that kept the Bengals in town when Riverfront Stadium was replaced by a football-only facility. Coupled with the possibility that some other market may be willing to make the Bengals an offer they can’t refuse if Cincinnati refuses to make a viable offer, relocation can’t be completely ruled out.
“I played a role in bringing it here,” Brown said. “I played a role in keeping it here. I don’t know if there’s much more I can do. I would hazard to guess the Bengals will be here when I’m not.”
Brown is now 82. A decade from now, it’s unclear who will be making the decisions about where the team will be. But basic economics could make a move at least a possibility, depending largely on the local political will to keep the team — and the political will of some other community to pry it away.
If those dynamics weren’t real and substantial, nearly 10 percent of the league’s teams wouldn’t have secured permission to change cities in the last two years. So it’s hardy a figment of anyone’s imagination to flag the Bengals as a team that could move. When current NFL cities can’t or won’t fund new stadiums and other cities will, it’s reasonable to peg teams with expiring leases in aging stadiums as potential candidates to get a new stadium in a new town.